Craig G is not a new comer to TimeIsIllmatic. He spit the lead off verse on the classic Juice Crew Posse cut “The Symphony”, and I reviewed his 1991 sophomore effort Now, That’s More Like a while back (If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on that album, click here). His debut album The Kingpin, has long been out of print and is a hard find, unless you’re willing to pay $30 or more for it on Amazon or Ebay, which I am not. As fate (or luck) would have it, I was able to find and buy a copy on Ebay for a very reasonable price and make it a part of my ever-growing but still very incomplete collection. And here we are.
Craig G was only sixteen years old when The Kingpin was released on Atlantic Records. His mentor, Marley Marl would handle the production duties for the entire project (random factoid: Craig G recorded his first record “Shout Rap” at the age of twelve, which was also produced by Marley Marl). Like it’s predecessor Now, That’s More Like It, Atlantic did little to promote The Kingpin, which would result in lackluster sells numbers.
I’ve waited long enough to hear this album, so without further adieu, let’s get into it.
Love Thang – The Kingpin opens with a feel good Marley instrumental that our host uses to display his storytelling abilities, sharing a few different scenarios loosely based on the subject of love. I say loosely because none of his verses are really about love, but the title does match the semi-catchy hook. Craig does a quality job of putting his verses together, and I like Marley’s bouncy bass line on this one.
Dopest Duo – Craig uses this one to brag about how dope he and his producer/fellow Queens brethren are with this hip-hop thing. Craig’s rhymes were decent but Marley’s instrumental is missing that umph to solidify them.
Rock The House – For those who lived through the mid eighties and early nineties, you’ll recall that house music, with all its repetitiveness and pulsating drum beats, was all the rave during that time period, and of course hip-hop sniffed the fad and dabbled with it (see Latifah’s “Come Into My House” and Jungle Brothers “I’ll House You”, just to name a few). On this one Craig spits his rhymes over a house beat, hence the title. And yes, it sounds just as corny as you think. Craig doesn’t sound that bad, but Marley’s instrumental is really bad.
First Day Of School – Craig reminisces about the childhood experience of summer coming to an end and preparing yourself (physically and mentally) for a new school year. Marley’s instrumental is driven by a bouncy bass line and an organ loop that stabs the beat ever so often. Cute song, but the instrumental doesn’t match Craig’s content.
Shootin’ The Gift – Marley hooks up a simple but funky guitar loop for Craig to recite his neatly written rhymes over. That’s all I got.
Slammin’ – More boasting from our host over a decent Marley Marl instrumental.
Turn This House Into A Home – Craig spills decent rhymes over another Marley house instrumental, but I don’t even think Rakim could have salvaged this hot mess of a backdrop. To add insult to injury, the hook is corn on the cob.
The Kingpin – Craig G takes his rhyming pace down a level and takes on a vocal tone that sounds similar to LL’s on “Going Back To Cali” and “I’m That Type Of Guy”; and it actually sounds dope. Matter of fact, I think this delivery sounds better than his standard one. Combine Craig’s rhymes with Marley’s slick instrumental, and this title track is a winner.
The Final Chapter – Based on the first line of the song (“After 11 songs had your brain captured, here’s the twelve one, this is called the Final Chapter”), Craig must have been planning to have this as the last song on the album, or maybe it was just the last song he recorded for The Kingpin. Regardless, he spits decent rhymes, but Marley’s mediocre backdrop kills the momentum.
Why’d You Have To Go? – TJ Swan must have blackmail pics of each member in the Juice Crew. There is no other explanation to why such a terrible vocalist has been granted the opportunity to sabotage several of the crew member’s songs with his atrocious cameos. I’ve always thought the dude sounded god-awful, but he takes off-key to another level on this one. I considered shooting myself to end the misery, but then I remembered all I had to do was hit the fast forward button. Craig G attempts to sound vulnerable as he reminisces on the love of his life who’s left him down and out in the dumps. Instead of sounding vulnerable, the shit just sounds cheesy, and Marley’s Casio keyboard instrumental makes it sound even cheesier. This was really bad. Think LL’s “I Need Love”, only ten times worst, and I’m not exaggerating.
Smooth – Decent.
The Blues – Craig G and Marley Marl end The Kingpin joking around on this silly outro.
Craig G is considered by many hip-hop historians to be a great freestyle and battle emcee. This may be true, but neither of those attributes are on display on The Kingpin. His written verses are cute and decent but not memorable, and definitely not potent enough to put him in the same conversation as some of his fellow Juice Crew brethren. Marley’s production work on The Kingpin (like much of his work prior to 1990) is lackluster and misses as often as it hits. It’s not that The Kingpin is a terrible album, it just lacks personality, which makes it easily forgettable.